Monday, January 14, 2008

FROM MY SEAT: This, That, and the Rocket

Posted By on Mon, Jan 14, 2008 at 4:00 AM

• North Carolina, Indiana, and Kentucky are considered by traditionalists as the basketball hotbeds of the United States. But when you look at the college game in 2008, the Volunteer State must be part of the conversation. Through Sunday, the combined records of the University of Memphis, Vanderbilt, and University of Tennessee come to 45-2. Which begs the question: When will Tiger coach John Calipari get the Commodores on his schedule? Vandy and the Vols play this Thursday night in Knoxville.

• The sad truth to the ongoing (and growing) steroid controversy surrounding Roger Clemens is that it comes down to what amounts to a modern-day cliche in professional sports: an athlete's inflated ego vs. reality as perceived by everyone else.

We may learn as early as February -- when Clemens, among other players named in the Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball, is scheduled to appear before a Congressional hearing -- just how much truth has been stretched in the Rocket's quite public defense against former trainer Brian McNamee's allegations that Clemens was injected with various performance enhancers over a three-year period. But in all likelihood, we won't, "sworn testimony" or otherwise. (Remember that finger Rafael Palmeiro pointed his questioners' way on St. Patrick's Day three years ago? Less than six months later, a player who had "never, ever" taken steroids was suspended . . . having tested positive for steroids.)

Clemens will deny ever touching the juice. McNamee, presumably, will insist he has told the truth all along. So what we baseball fans have is a case of dueling egos: that of a trainer who -- if he's lying -- is seizing his one, desperate opportunity at national fame by outing the most famous client he'll ever have against that of a Hall of Fame-bound pitcher who, having struck out a few hundred too many, perhaps, believes his version of "truth" trumps the real McCoy.

Am I the only one who wishes these types would find the same island, somewhere in another hemisphere?

• As the New England Patriots march their way toward the second undefeated season in NFL history, fans of America's most popular spectator sport can be forgiven for mourning the death of parity. But then take a look at the National Football Conference. Regardless of who wins Sunday's NFC championship game between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants, the NFC will send its seventh different team in seven years to the Super Bowl. If the favored Packers win, it will be eight teams in eight years -- fully half the entire conference. And only one of those teams -- the 2002 Buccaneers -- actually won the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Parity may be dead, but mediocrity is alive and well in the NFC.

• This is going to be my only criticism of the mighty Patriots, whether or not they finish their remarkable season unblemished. (By the way, they'd lose a Fantasy Bowl to the 1989 '49ers and the 1985 Bears.) The worst kind of cheater is one who doesn't NEED to cheat. President Richard Nixon had the 1972 election in his hip pocket, yet still signed off on the infamous break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate hotel complex in Washington, D.C. Despite George McGovern's having no chance at victory, the paranoid Nixon extended himself to criminal lengths to assure himself the presidency for four more years.

The New York Jets, like apparently the rest of the NFL, had no chance of beating the Patriots last September when Pats coach Bill Belichick was discovered to have authorized the video recording of the Jets' play-calling signals from the sideline. The "extra step" on the part of this three-time Super Bowl-winning coach is positively Nixonian, and my hope is that the transgression is not forgotten by football historians, however extraordinary New England's on-field performance proves to be. Pay attention, Hall of Fame voters, when Belichick becomes eligible.


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